Arrests and even killings of bloggers and others who speak out against repression and injustice on the Web have only grown in number over the past decade. In Bangladesh, Mexico, Syria, Egypt, China, Ethiopia and elsewhere, people have suffered grave consequences for expressing opinions and exposing evidence of injustices.
In May of 2018, the digital media community Global Voices is relaunching a 2009 initiative called Threatened Voices. The project relies on media freedom and human rights experts from dozens of countries to document the stories of individuals who experience threats ranging from online harassment and technical attacks, to arrest and even assassination for speaking out online.
Threatened Voices serves the triple purpose of highlighting and supporting individuals at risk, generating international awareness of the threats to free speech online and contributing to research and an understanding of how repression of online activists escalates over time.
Vaibhav Bhawsar in Bangalore, India is the designer of the storytelling and visualization tools for Threatened Voices and was a 2017 Ford-MDF Design and Technology Fellow at Global Voices.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge for Threatened Voices? How do you plan to address this on the updated website?
A: The initial version of this project — like other media freedom maps and rankings — sought to present a comprehensive picture of all the threats against individuals engaging in civic-minded online speech around the world. But we can never know every threat, arrest or incident of online attack. There are so many, and when they happen in places where we don’t have active community members, or where Internet connections are scant, we are likely to miss those data points.
The new version seeks to emphasize analysis and data collection within more limited country and regional contexts, so that our data and visualizations emphasize changes over time in a specific place, or for a specific group of people, as opposed to the whole world. We believe we can still help paint a picture of the global reality, while acknowledging that we cannot capture each relevant instance.
Q: What features of the new website are you most excited about?
A: We are excited about how data visualization tools will help us tell more complex and engaging stories of threats faced by individuals and groups.
Q: How does Threatened Voices benefit from being an online community effort?
A: The Global Voices community, together with a strong network of partner organizations, is uniquely positioned to do this work. Our writers are themselves deeply enmeshed in online communities and networks of digital human rights activists. They bring information to the platform directly from people who are facing these threats as well as from other primary sources like lawyers and local journalists. It is also a community of trust, based on years of collaboration and mutual support. This is imperative when dealing with information that directly puts at risk the lives and livelihoods of individuals defending human rights.